Venice 2020 First News

July 24, 2020
From multiple reports it seems that a big American film and a range of independents will be part of the 77th Venice Film Festival program, which will be the first major festival to unspool live.

Could Christopher Nolan’s now-delayed Tenet join the throng? Cinema-loving Nolan, who still shoots on film and was insisting on a cinema release, may well be placated with a Lido berth. After all, Warner Brothers did mighty well with Joker, which took out the top prize, the Golden Lion, before Joaquin Phoenix went on to win the acting Oscar.

In the meantime, before all is unveiled next week, the festival has offered three revelations, besides the news last January that Cate Blanchett will be the head of the competition jury – where we hear that more women will be competing than usual.

  1. Tilda Swinton and Hong Kong director Ann Hui will receive lifetime achievement awards. Swinton is no stranger to the Lido, and like Phoenix, premiered her 2007 film Michael Clayton there before going on to win the supporting actress Oscar. Three of her films with Luca Guadagnino, 2009’s I Am Love, 2015’s A Bigger Splash and 2018’s Suspiria, also world premiered in Venice. In a statement, the festival’s director Alberto Barbera commended Swinton’s similar allegiance to her early collaborator Derek Jarman as well. Swinton is coming to accept her award.

“This great festival has been dear to my heart for three decades: to be honored by her in this way is extremely humbling,” Swinton said. “To come to Venice, this year of all years, to celebrate immortal cinema and her defiant survival in the face of all the challenges that evolution might throw at her – as at us all – will be my sincere joy.”

Tilda Swinton. Photo by Michael Lavine

Hui, whose films A Simple Life and The Golden Era premiered in Venice, has won six best director awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards, more than any other filmmaker.

“Ann Hui is one of Asia’s most respected, prolific, and versatile directors of our times; her career spans four decades and touches every film genre,” says Barbera. “From the outset, she has been acknowledged as one of the pivotal figures of the so-called Hong Kong New Wave – the film movement which revolutionised Hong Kong’s movies during the 1970s and ‘80s, transforming the cosmopolitan city into one of the most energetic, creative centers of the decade.”

Ann Hui

“I am very happy and honoured to be given this prize, especially at this time teeming with bad news,” Hui told The South China Morning Post. “But apart from my personal glory, being given this prize means that Hong Kong filmmakers are good, and that’s what I’m most happy about!”

  1. CRITICS WEEK

*The opening fantasy film, the Terrence Malick-produced The Book of Vision stars Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance as 18th century Prussian physician Johann Anmuth, telling the story of how together with a promising young doctor (Lotte Verbeek) he is swept up into a never-ending vortex via the book. Sounds promising.

*In the closing film The Rossellinis, Alessandro Rossellini, the first grandson of the great Italian director Roberto, casts his eye over the life of his sometimes morally scandalous grandfather while examining his own less successful career and forcing his family to a therapy session in front of the camera.

The Critics’ Week competition comprises seven films by first time directors.

*Topside directed by US filmmaking couple Celine Held and Logan George. Deep in the underbelly of New York City, a five-year-old girl and her mother live among a community that has claimed the abandoned subway tunnels as their home. They are forced to flee to the outside world after a police-mandated eviction.

*Thou Shall Not Hate, a racism-themed drama by Italy’s Mauro Mancini. Simone Segre, a renowned surgeon of Jewish origin, lives in a city in north-eastern Italy, leading a quiet life with no connections to his past. One day, as he is helping the victim of a hit-and-run accident, he discovers a Nazi tattoo on his chest and must decide whether to treat him. Alessandro Gassmann, son of Vittorio, stars.

*Shorta, a Danish thriller by Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm that unfolds in the aftermath of the killing of 19-year-old Talib Ben Hassi while in custody. At the time of the killing, police officers Jens and Mike are on patrol in a local ghetto and the ghetto’s youth lust for revenge…

*50 or Two Whales Meet at the Beach, a nihilistic coming-of-age drama by Mexico’s Jorge Cuchi that follows a 17-year-old youth who receives an invitation on WhatsApp: ‘Do you want to play the Blue Whale game? The one with 50 challenges? The one where you have to kill yourself at the end?’ He accepts. There, he meets Elsa and together they start completing the challenges, which will ultimately lead to their death – in six days’ time.

*Ghosts, a Turkey-France-Qatar drama directed by Azra Deniz Okyay. Set in Istanbul, it revolves around a drug deal and over the course of a day we meet four characters – a mother whose son is in prison, a young woman committed to dancing, a female artist-activist and a cunning middle man – all in a neighbourhood undergoing a process of gentrification for the “New Turkey”.

*Bad Roads, a Ukrainian war drama by Natalya Vorozhbyt. Four short stories set along the roads of Donbass during the war.

*The Flood Won’t Come, a Lithuanian war drama by Marat Sargsyan focusing on a Colonel who has caused wars or ordered wars on multiple occasions in different countries. Now, he is tired of war and wants to sit in front of the TV. But can he? His followers have grown up and caused a war in his country and although he doesn’t want to, he has to fight.

According to Variety, Critic’s Week director Gionno Nazzaro emphasised “the importance of the festival taking place as a physical edition this year. This doesn’t mean that we underestimate the [potential] presence of the virus. We simply think that we need to start thinking how to live together with the virus until a vaccine comes along.” He also pointed out that he is “looking forward to welcoming the delegations that made the films possible in accordance with sanitary safety rules.”

  1. VENICE DAYS

Given that Venice is the first major festival with a physical edition, the Venice Days selection, announced yesterday, was titled ‘The Days of Courage’.

This year’s tribute for master filmmaking in world cinema will be awarded to Italy’s own Liliana Cavani, most famed for The Night Porter (1974).

Israeli director Nadav Lapid (Synonyms) is the jury president.

*Honey Cigar (France, Algeria) is the opening film, screening in competition. The sensual debut by Kamir Aïnouz, the sister of the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz was developed with the support of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and produced by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The film is set in Paris in 1993 and follows Selma, 17, who lives in a bourgeois and secular Berber family. When she meets Julien, she realises for the first time the impact of patriarchal rules on her intimacy. As Selma discovers the strength of her own desire, fundamentalism takes over her country and her family starts to crumble.

*The Stonebreaker (Italy, France, Belgium), directed by twins Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, is a human/family tragedy set in Puglia. It stars Salvatore Esposito from the Gomorrah TV series.

*The Whaler Boy (Russia, Poland, Belgium) is a coming-of-age/adventure tale set in Russia’s Far North, a Siberia ambivalent about consumer culture. Directed by newcomer Philipp Yuryev and co-produced by the late Marion Hansel.

*Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time by Lili Horvat (Hungary)

*Mama by Li Dongmei (China)

*Oasis by Ivan Ilkic (Serbia, The Netherlands, France, Bosnia-Erzegovina)

*Residue by Merawi Gerima (U.S.)

*Conference by Ivan I. Tverdovskij (Russia, Estonia, Italy, U.K)

*My Tender Matador by Rodrigo Sepulveda (Chile, Argentina, Mexico)

*200 Meters by Ameen Nayfeh (Palestine, Italy)

*The closing film, screening out of competition, will be Saint-Narcisse by the “refreshingly irreverent” Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, whose film Gerontophilia screened in Venice in 2013. Set in 1972 Canada, it follows Dominic, a handsome narcissistic young man who discovers the existence of his twin brother, living in a remote monastery led by a depraved priest.

*Guide Romantica A Posti Perduti directed by Giorgia Farina (Italy) is a romantic road movie starring Jasmine Trinca, Clive Owen and Irene Jacob. It’s part of the out-of competition Special Events programme.

#No Australian talent (besides Blanchett) on show. Let’s hope a few Australian films make the official selection.

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